New Marine gained discipline, lost weight
By Sgt. David Salazar
| | February 23, 2004
Marketing & Public Affairs Representative, RS Fort Lauderdale;FORT PIERCE, Fla. -- --
“The change is forever.”
No truer words have been spoken about the remarkable transformation undergone by PFC Jesus Vega.
The newly trained Marine on Permissive Recruiter Assistance Program orders at Recruiting Substation Fort Pierce, Fla., breathed new life into the Corps’ old motto by taking initiative to change his 305-pound body into the lean, mean, fighting machine he is today.
The yearlong journey that took the 20-year-old, 2001 graduate of South Fork High School from hefty to healthy began in Jan. 2003.
Having participated in Army Reserve Officer Training Corps activities during high school, Vega approached the local Army recruiter for information on joining – only to find his knock on that door of opportunity would go unanswered.
“I wanted to get more information and see if I could join the Army – but they wouldn’t give me the time of day,” Vega recalled. “I knew the Marine Corps had tough weight restrictions, so I hadn’t thought about going to them, but the Army recruiter told me that I should.
“Then I thought: ‘Well they are the toughest’ -- and that’s what I wanted, so I went down to talk to Staff Sgt. (Joshua) Nesselhauf.”
Though he initially had reservations of his own, Nesselhauf, the canvassing recruiter assigned to Permanent Contact Station Jensen Beach, gave the then-heavy Vega two hours of his time.
Nesselhauf made it very clear that in his present state, Vega was not qualified to join the Corps. So the two made a deal: if Vega could drop 15-20 pounds in a few months, Nesselhauf would invest more time in helping him get into shape – and more importantly – help him attain his goal of losing close to 100 pounds to meet the requirement to join the Delayed Entry Program.
Vega didn’t take that gamble lightly.
“That was a big wakeup call for me,” confessed the Stuart, Fla, native. “But I knew I had to do it. I talked to my girlfriend that night and told her: ‘I’ve got to get out of here. I have to make a better life for myself’.”
Then Vega, a self-proclaimed couch potato at the time, took matters into his own hands and began to run regularly and cut fast food out of his diet.
In one month’s time, a 274-pound Vega returned to PCS Jensen Beach for a follow up with Nesselhauf.
“I was shocked,” Nesselhauf said.
But the gesture showed Vega was worth the recruiter’s time.
“The fact that he put forth all of that effort to lose that amount of weight so quickly showed me he was serious about his goals – so I invited him out to our poolee meetings and invited him to come PT with us,” Nesselhauf said.
On Aug. 28 – just eight months after his initial visit – Vega had shed 96 pounds and joined the Marine DEP.
”He was almost in tears,” recalled Staff Sgt. Ric Wagner, RSS Fort Pierce’s staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge.
Then Vega shed an additional 17 pounds to make his shipping weight requirement and found himself on the renowned yellow footprints at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island Nov. 3, 2003.
Not even the fear normally evoked by the receiving drill instructor could shake Vega.
“I left Fort Pierce with a positive attitude because of the recruiters there,” Vega said. “They talked to me every day and asked, ‘You’ve come all this way, why should you stop now?’”
Vega didn’t stop. He graduated boot camp on Jan. 30 as a squad leader.
The new Marine returned to PCS Jensen Beach one more time in an effort to perpetuate motivation amongst men and women in his former situation.
“All I want to do is inspire someone,” Vega said. “I want to make a difference in someone that’s heavy and tell them that life isn’t about sitting around and having things handed to you – you have to get up and make those changes on your own.”